Posts Tagged ‘global issues’
Gender Across Borders has encouraged us to think about what “equal rights for all” means to us. This seems like a simple question, right? But once you actually sit down and try to think about it, it’s kind of a complicated question. It should be pretty simple, you would think: give everybody equal rights.
But in a patriarchal, racist, classist, ableist, heterosexist culture such as the one that I am familiar with (the United States), equal rights is not such an easy concept for people to grasp. Equal rights as they are understood by the government now, are still mainly just equal rights for white, middle/upper class, heterosexual men.
So what would I like to see in actually implementing the ideal of equal rights for all?
- equal pay for equal work: women still make 70 cents to every dollar than men make.
- equal access to health care for everyone, not just the rich: in order to function in society, people have to have access to quality health care that is appropriate for each individual, including reproductive health care
- equal access to education: if everyone has the same access to education, other barriers will start to fall down as well
- marriage equality: anyone that wants to get married, should be able to get married
- comprehensive sex education for everyone: people need to know how to make the right decisions for themselves with regards to their sexuality and this will only happen if everyone has access to comprehensive sex education
- end all violence against women: including (but not limited to) rape, domestic violence, genital mutilation, human trafficking.
These are all things that would be put into effect by the government or societal institutions, but these are not just enough. In order for these things to really take effect, cultural views of women, people of color, people with disabilities, trans people, gay and lesbian people will all have to change. And this is where it gets tough, because prejudice is deeply rooted in USian culture; people are going to give it up easily. It’s also important to keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list; these are only some starting blocks and stepping stones.
Also make sure to check out Gender Across Borders’ Blog for IWD BLOG!
It’s sad that I didn’t know about the happenings in Romania under Ceausescu’s rule until I read this book: The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu’s Romania by Gail Kligman. I was shocked when I was reading this book to hear about what these women had to go through on a daily basis.
So here’s the deal: Ceausescu led one of the most repressive anti-abortion regimes. Women were forced to get really back-alley abortions that were more often than not unsafe. Because a large portion of the population was poor, they could not afford to have a real doctor perform their abortion — that was a privilege that was only for the uber-rich. So if a woman got an abortion that went wrong and had to go to the hospital, she would then be arrested for getting an abortion and was not fully treated for the complications invovled with that abortion. As a result of unsafe abortions, the maternal mortality rate was very high.
This anti-abortion legislation also led to over-population and a large orphanage population. But the state did not adequately take care of the orphanages. Children were malnourished and had never really experienced human contact.
From the back cover:
The political hypocrisy and personal horrors of one of hte most repressive anti-abortion regimes in history came to the world’s attention soon after the fall of Romanian dictator Nicholae Ceausescu. Photographs of orphans with vacant eyes and wasted bodies circled the globe, as did alarming maternal mortality statistics and heart-beating details of an infant AIDS epidemic. Gail Kligman’s chilling ethnography – of the state of of the politics of reproduction – is the first in-depth examination of this extreme case of political intervention into intimate aspects of everyday life. Her analysis explores the institutionalization of duplicity and complicity as social practices that contributed to the state’s perpetuation and ultimate demise.
This powerful study is based on moving interviews with women and physicians a well as on documentary and archival material. Besides discussing the social implications and human costs of restrictive reproductive legislation, Kligman examies how reproductive issues become embedded in national and international agendas. She concludes with lessons the world can learn from Romania’s tragic experience.
What I loved about this book was that it was not only a historical account of the horrors of Ceausescu’s Romania, but Kligman also looks at the broader political implications and “examines how reproductive issues become embedded in national and international agendas.”
While this book documents a truly chilling story, it is definitely worth a read. It is important to look at where we have been so as to not repeat these scary events again. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reproductive rights and how access to women’s bodies affects national and international politics.
Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction (edited by Faye D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp) is an anthology that I read from for my Anthropology of Reproduction class my sophomore year of college. My copy still has sticky notes and pen markings all over it from the great time that I had in that class. The essays that are compiled in this anthology are broad-ranging, which is why I think I liked it so much — it covered a lot of ground in the world of sexual politics and reproduction.
From the back cover:
This groundbreaking volume provides a dramatic investigation of the dynamics of reproduction. In an unusually broad spectrum of essays, a distinguished group of international feminist scholars and activists explores the complexity of contemporary sexual politics around the globe. Using reproduction as an entry point in the study of social life and placing it at the center of social theory, the authors examine how cultures are produced, contested, and transformed as people imagine their collective future in the creation of the next generation. The studies encompass a wide variety of subjects, from the impact of AIDS on reproduction in the United States to the after-effects of Chernobyl on the Sami people in Scandinavia and the impact of totalitarian abortion and birth control policies in Romania and China.
Conceiving the New World Order is a must read for all anthropologists and gender studies scholars as well as anyone interested in the dynamics of women’s experiences around the world.
Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? In the sense that all of the essays are pretty scholarly, it can be. Especially for a sophomore who isn’t too familiar with anthropological theory. But I made it through and loved it.
The essays in this anthology are divided into six sections: The Politics of Birth/Control; Stratified Reproduction; Rethinking Demography, Biology, and Social Policy; Disastrous Circumstances and Reproductive Consequences; What’s So New About the New Reproductive Technologies; and What’s Political About Reproduction. I think my favorite sections would probably be The Politics of Birth/Control and What’s Political About Reproduction. I love anything that talks about the intersection between politics and women’s body. This whole anthology is pretty much about that, but especially these two sections. Some of the essays that I still have bookmarked range include: “Deadly Reproduction among Egyptian Women: Maternal Mortality and the Medicalization of Population Control” by Soheir A. Morsy; “Political Demography: The Banning of Abortion in Ceausescu’s Romania” by Gail Kligman (which I have a whole book on and could talk about for a while); “Displacing Knowledge: Technology and the Consequences for Kinship” by Marilyn Strathern; “Interrogating the Concept of Reproduction in the Eighteenth Century” by Ludmilla Jordanova; and “Misreading Darwin on Reproduction: Reductionism in Evolutionary Theory” by Adrienne L. Zihlman.
This is definitely a loft anthology, but I think it’s worth at least taking a look at some of the essays it contains. Especially for anyone interested in reproduction, the intersection between politics and women’s bodies on a global level, and women’s studies in general.
I feel like I have been talking about virginity a lot lately, but this was just too good to pass up. Via a tweet from @TheUndomestic, I became aware of this blog post: “Mothers Sold Daughters’ Virginity Online.”
I mean, really? Who wouldn’t want to know what that’s all about!
Apparently, Moscow police have arrested two mothers for selling their daughters’ virginity online. They needed money to cover debts and save for their daughter’s dowry and figured this was a good way to do it. For a 16-year-old virgin, the mother made $6,000 US and for a 13-year-old virgin, the mother made $12,000 US.
These mothers worked through an organization (the post doesn’t give this organization a name) that contacts families in poverty about selling the virginity of their daughters and matching them with pedophiles who are willing to pay the big bucks. But the truly sad thing, the daughters of these two mothers were unaware of this deal, thinking that they were going to see a photographer. One mother said that she hoped her daughter “sacrifice herself” to save the family from poverty. One of the mothers ever said,
“Yes, I understand that virginity is a commodity. If I wasn’t old, I would restore mine and sell it. If there are fools that are ready to pay for it, then I am ready.”
Virginity is a commodity used to oppress women. I’m amazed that mothers would further use their daughters’ virginity to oppress them and subject them to the objectification of a pedophile…without the knowledge of the daughters’!
This case use reinforces the “virginity as commodity” standard for women, further oppressing women for their sexuality or lack their of. If a woman expresses her sexuality, she’s a slut, but if a woman doesn’t express her sexuality, she’s a prude. The commodification of virginity hurts all women, not just women who are still “virgins.”
In this installment of Breast Implications, I am looking at the cross-cultural examination of breasts that our group researched. In this section, we originally set out to look at how people in different cultures perceived and thought about breasts. But what we found is that there was a severe lack of research on this topic. As a result, breastfeeding in other cultures was focused on. I will discuss more about this decision after I give you the information that we had in our zine…
It is hard to fully discuss the cross-cultural interpretations of breasts for a couple reasons:
- The immense variation between cultures around the world
- Many cultures have a taboo around surrounding discussing breasts and/or sexuality
Keeping these factors in mind, the generalized information presented in this section does not represent all cultures around the world but a sampling of research. There is not a vast amount of research on the subject and a large amount of the research found pertains to African cultures, primarily Mali and Senegal in particular.
Research both stressed and denied the importance of breasts as sexual entities in different cultures, so it is unclear how these particular cultures feel about and see breasts because of the conflicting research.
The decisions to breastfeed and to breastfeed in public show some of how the culture perceives breasts. In Mali and Senegal, the prominence of breastfeeding shows the importance of the working breast.
In Mali, working, or lactating, breasts are not seen as sexual objects because of their connection to nurturing children (Dettwyler 175).
Women’s decisions on whether or not to breastfeed are framed by attitudes towards their bodies and their breasts that may have nothing to do with breastfeeding (Van Esterik 2002, 262).
Breastfeeding is “a complex process shaped by social and cultural forces interacting with local environmental and political conditions.” – Penny Van Esterik (2002, 258).
Breastfeeding creates a special bond between the mother and child as well as between all of the children that nurse from the same woman, even if they are not biological siblings. Choosing not to breastfeed is, essentially, deciding not to be related to her children (Dettwyler 179, 181).
In breastfeeding, the mother is passing on a part of herself as well as traditional values of the culture marking the child as human and a part of that culture (Wright et al 766).
Breast milk itself is a cultural product with cultural value. It is deeply connected to the woman’s body and said to be “from the blood.” Because of breast milk’s conection to a woman’s blood, semen is seen to cause the milk to spoil, so sex during pregnancy or breastfeeding is forbidden. If breast milk can be spoiled, either through contact with semen or other ways, it is a potential source of destruction as well as nurturance (Dettwyler 179; Van Esterik 2002, 261).
The westernization of developing countries shifts the emphasis from the working, nurturing breast to the sexual breast. With this shift, breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public in particular, becomes less common because of the fear of others seeing part of a breast and the fear that breastfeeding will deform the breast. This is a result of interpreting breasts primarily as sex objects, which comes along with Westernization (Van Esterik 1989, 73, 74).
The effects of Westernization on the view of the breast made it easier for companies to promote breast milk substitutes. Only July 4, 1977, there was a boycott launched in the United States against the Nestle corporation prompted by the concern over the company’s marketing of breast milk substitutes in developing countries. Switching from breastfeeding to baby formula has led to health problem and deaths among children in these countries (Van Esterik 1989).
This move away from breastfeeding towards baby formula shows a disconnect within cultures based on the transmission of culture that is associated with breastfeeding.
In the past (and still today to some degree), the use of bodies, especially breasts, of foreign women, usually African women, were used as a form of entertainment. This form of orientalism dehumanizes these women by objectifying them so that they are just seen for their breasts. This was done both in the name of entertainment and of research and science (Masquelier).
“The breasts of women not only symbolized the most fundamental social bond, that between mother and child, but they were also the means by which families were made since their beauty elicited the desires of the male for the female.” – Ludmilla Jordanova (Van Esterik 2002, 263)
The lack of research concerning cross-cultural interpretations of breasts shows other cultures reluctance to discuss breasts as well as the taboo discussion topic within “the West.” Because most of the research is done by people in “the West,” primarily the United States, this lack of research is evident not only of the invisibility of breasts within “the West,” but also in developing countries.
Additionally, the fact that the research was primarily focused on breastfeeding shows the importance of the nurturing role of the breast in these cultures. Even if breasts are sexualized in other cultures, which is unclear based on the research, it is clear that the working breast is of equal if not greater importance.
This research is definitely not perfect and not complete. But looking at the view of breastfeeding in other cultures can give us a little bit of a glimpse into how the culture feels about the breast. If breastfeeding is not taboo in public, it could signify an emphasis placed on the nurturing breast rather than the sexual breast. And the fact that breasts are becoming increasingly sexualized along with Westernization speaks to the view of breasts in “the West.”
Dettwyler, Katherina A. “More Than Nutrition: Breastfeeding in Urban Mali.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 2 (1988): 172-83.
Van Esterik, Penny. Beyond the Breast-Bottle Controversy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
Van Esterik, Penny. “Contemporary Trends in Infant Feeding Research.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 257-78.
Wright, Anne L.,
Mark Bauer, Clarina Clark, Frank Morgan, and Kenneth Begish. “Cultural Interpretations and Intracultural Variability in Navajo Beliefs About Breastfeeding.” American Ethnologist 20 (1993): 781-96.
Jones, Diana P. “Cultural Views of the Female Breast.” The ABNF Journal (2004).
Whittemore, Robert, and Elizabeth A. Beverly. “Mandinka Mothers and Nurslings: Power and Reproduction.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10 (1996): 45-62.
My friend Marta is working at the YWCA this summer, which I am totally jealous of. She wrote this article for them about the feminization of poverty both in the United States and around the world. I thought it might be of interest. Marta is a rising senior majoring in Health and Society at my alma mater (weird to say that), Beloit College. She is from San Diego, CA, but is working at the YWCA of Rock County in Janesville, WI this summer as the Economic Empowerment Intern.
Women and Global Poverty
Globally, seven out of every ten people who go to bed hungry each night are women.
The feminization of poverty is the direct result of the increasing number of female-headed households world-wide. Previously a western phenomenon, women around the world are increasingly becoming solely responsible for their households. Because men have more earning power than women (30% more in the United States and even more in the developing world), households headed by women automatically lack a tremendous resource. This has resulted in women constituting more than 70% of the world’s poverty.
Poverty is a feminist issue. As the economy takes a turn for the worst, it is clear that many women are carrying twice the burden of their male counterparts. But female poverty goes well beyond the economic depression in the United States. Globally, more than 1.5 billion (yes, BILLION) people live on less than $1 per day, and the majority of them are women who are responsible for children, agriculture (food production), and earning money. Women have suffered profoundly at the hands of misguided cultural practices and norms, as well as urbanization and the emergence of cash economies in rural areas (which generally move men towards cities and away from their families and, consequently, their monetary responsibilities.) Inequalities between men and women run rampant around the world, sometimes subjugating women and girls so profoundly that their lives are literally at stake. It is not uncommon for women to lack the monetary support of a male partner, but also lack entitlement to basic human rights, access to inheritances, as well as land and property ownership. Globally, women are too often excluded from credit as well, which deeply disturbs their ability to rise out of poverty.
So, what are female-focused solutions to global poverty? Short of a global uprising against economic disparities between men and women, many have suggested that “investing in women’s access to land, water, fertilizers, [and] farm labor… is the long-term solution to preventing a hunger crisis” as well as lifting women (ever so slightly) out of the type of poverty that threatens their day to day existence. Others have suggested, and in some cases successfully implemented, microcredit programs that specifically target women, giving them access to credit and encouraging entrepreneurial activities. And still others claim that education is the way to brighter economic futures for women (in many countries women and girls are denied educational opportunities, therefore stunting their economic potential.) While these are all wonderful and decidedly practical solutions to helping women around the world make ends meet, none of them directly combat the root of the problem: a global epidemic of negative, harmful, and archaic views of women.
Poverty is a feminist issue. As feminists, how can we ignore the fact that so many of the people living in poverty are women, and many of those women are single mothers supporting their families?
I have privilege living in the middle class and growing up not being deprived of anything important (though I didn’t see it like that at the time). But I try to always be aware of this class privilege (as well as my other privileges). It’s not always easy, but it’s important to point out privilege when it is present to bring it into light and into discussion. This is the only way that the privilege will ever be addressed.
So as feminists, we have the responsibility to acknowledge that privilege that class gives some of us and the realities of women and families that live in poverty. Because of the feminization of poverty is prevalent throughout the world, feminists have to address this social reality. If feminists don’t have a say in tackling this massive problem, the women who live in poverty will not have the voices heard all of the time.
From the Huffington Post comes an article about international women calling on the G8 to “make their mothers proud” and support maternal health. Their strategy to gain awareness the day before the G8: full page advertisements in the G8 countries picturing the G8 leaders and their mothers.
The women involved in this campaign are Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Emma Thompson, Gweneth Paltrow, Yoko Ono, Wendi Murdoch, Christiane Amanpour, Annie Lennox, and JK Rowling. The Huffington Post article has some great quotes from these women about why maternal health is such an important cause.
Yoko Ono said:
“Families, communities, and whole societies, are built on the mother-child relationship. There are simple actions that G8 leaders can take to support this most vital human bond, with massive benefit across the world.”
Gwyneth Paltrow said:
“It is one of the great scandals facing our generation. While we are worrying about rising taxes, there are women dying in childbirth for the lack of a sutre-stitching kit which costs a couple of pounds. It’s simply no longer acceptable that we ignore this disgrace.”
Maternal mortality has been ignored for too long by the world’s leaders. Many countries and organizations pledge to make strides in decreasing maternal mortality, but little improvement is being seen.
In Japan in 2008 G8 leaders did pledge to fill the gap in funding for 4 million health workers. However mechanisms and funding to support this promise have not yet been developed, which has meant that since the last G8 536,000 mothers who could have lived, have died (according to WHO/UNFPA/UNICEF/World Bank)…
…Millennium Development Goal 5 is the goal to reduce maternal mortality by 75% by 2015. Yet it is the most neglected of all the MDGs, with no reduction in deaths for 20 years.
I think it is wonderful that these women are taking the initiative to urge the G8 to remedy this situation. The sad reality of the world today is that it sometimes takes a push from famous, powerful people for these kinds of issues to be addressed by governments and organizations. With the G8 Summit just around the corner, it is even more important to do whatever we can to show that maternal mortality is a big deal.
This past weekend (June 19-21) I attended the National NOW Conference in Indianapolis, IN. It was an amazing conference filled with intelligent and passionate women. I felt right at home in the room of over 400 fellow feminists. In case any of you are interested, this is what I was up to there. I went to four workshops and saw some brilliant speakers.
The first workshop I attended was “Don’t Be a Bystander: Own Your Sexual Health.” This workshop covered various resources that are available about reproductive and sexual health led by a woman from SisterSong and two women from the National Library of Medicine.. I’m amazed at all of the valuable information that is out there and the work that is being done by organizations to make the information even better. Here are some of the websites that I especially liked:
Mapping Our Rights – Developed by SisterSong, this website has tons on information of the laws and policies in each state that relate to reproductive rights. Right now, it doesn’t have everything, but it is still really comprehensive and you can request that they add information.
Medline Plus – Put out by the National Library of Medicine, this is a comprehensive health website, but has some great sections of Teen Sexual Health, Reproductive Health, Women’s Sexual Health, etc.
Sex Etc. – a webiste geared toward LGBT teens who are questioning their sexual identity.
Women’s Health – this website is pretty much what the name says, but it has some great info!
The next workshop I went to was “Square Butts, Date Rape, and Wicked Witches: Confronting Dangerous Media Messages.” This was about the dangerous effect that the media has on women, from the self-esteem of girls and women to how men view women. This was an amazing workshop that was really comprehensive about the different types of advertising strageties and how the media portrays women. It also talked about things you can do to fight back. You can check out NOW’s Media Hall of Shame. If you see an advertisement or news report that offends you, contact the company. If you decide to boycott a company based on their advertising campaign, make sure you let them know why. So many offensive ads have been taken out of magazines, off TV and down from billboards because people have written to the companies because of offensive material.
On Saturday, I went to “Feminist Blogging: Connecting Women Around the World.” This workshop was pretty straight forward, but gave some valuable information on how to get started, what to post, and how to manage a blog.
Finally, I went to “Feminist Activism on Global Issues: CEDAW, Trafficking, Violence, Poverty, and Women’s Health.” This was such a jam-packed workshop and I arrived late because some other speakers ran over. But it was so comprehensive. The main focus was human and sex trafficking. You may not think that it’s that big of a problem, but oh yes it is. It was kind of overwhelming to sit there and listen to all these horrible things that happen not only to women in other countries, but to women right here in the United States. The biggest problem in working against the trafficking of women is that there are no services for the women after they escape from their traffickers. I don’t know what else to say because there was just so much information and it was so overwhelming.
The speakers at the conference included Lulu Flores, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus; Donna Smith, health care advocate who was featured in Sicko; Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and activist for women’s and working class rights; Hon. Jennifer Brunner, first female Sec. of State of Ohio and Senate candidate to be the first female senator from Ohio; Hon. Gwen Moore, representative from Wisconsin; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennet College for Women; and Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale, the first openly lesbian or gay president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School.
Overall, amazing conference, amazing people, amazing time!